Transitions between Property Regimes
What causes a society to reallocate property rights? The canonical explanation is the one offered by Harold Demsetz in "Toward a Theory of Property Rights"--that societies adopt new property regimes when some external shock alters the costs and benefits of an existing regime such that it becomes less efficient than the one that replaces it. As others have noted, however, the Demsetz account fails to specify any mechanism by which the transition can actually occur, and the existence of such a mechanism is not obvious, because the transition is likely to be costly. This paper examines the empirical operation of one such mechanism, used in the massive reallocation of property rights that took place throughout Europe and many of its colonies roughly between 1500 and 1900, in which functionally organized property systems were converted into spatially organized systems. Copyright 2002 by the University of Chicago.
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